Marking of the Days
again - The palace Manaleh
(City of Namida, Satnatari Prefecture, the Northern Territories, Planet Forth, Center of the Empire)
The ground of the flight pad at the rear of the palace greets the landing gear of my craft with a solid, familiar sound that makes one glad to have ended their flight. This pad is one of the very few that are near to the palace Manaleh and is
in fact the closest, only steps from an entrance. Shilne’s cruiser hovers above me for a moment then finds room on the small pad beside mine, kicking up dust and blowing the trees about. I frown at him as he climbs out of his smaller craft and his boots find the ground with a dramatic thump.
"Your landing is messy." I say as he approaches with a smile for my harassment. He removes his gloves and his helmet, which releases his unruly short dark hair from its long confinement. Though quite flattened it begins to spring upward in all directions as usual.
"I prefer the drama of a messy landing. I like to let people know I have arrived." He smirks, ruffling his hair to encourage its defiance of gravity further.
"Your big mouth does that well enough for you."
He laughs loudly, "Now there is the sky calling the sea blue!!"
I turn and look at the back of the palace that lies before me with such serenity. The air is filled with the smell of the rain that has fallen before our arrival, the ground is wet, the trees around us are shedding heavy tears, the clouds above are trying to fight with the sun to retain control. This air is fresh and sweet to my lungs, filled with moisture. The recycled air of a carrier or other ship is rarely moist enough to provide such comfort. Shilne and I both take in a deep, luxurious breath as we stand there enjoying the feeling of open space.
It has been a long time since I was here last. What strikes me immediately is the quiet of this place. There is none of the constant rumbling of engines or support systems. There are no voices, sounds of people passing down metal corridors... There is only the sounds of Shilne and I standing on the small piece of tarmac behind the palace, breathing and listening to the sounds of the forest animals that we have disturbed with our arrival.
A breeze comes up and whistles in the green needles of the trees, which climb up the hills that the palace rests within. I can see the motion of my people in the city that spreads out in the valley far far below. I can feel the change of the seasons that is going on now. At this time of the cycle of the seasons the winter is still fighting with the coming spring. There are new buds on the trees and the hint of life is immerging from the soil. I take another deep breath of the sweet air and then sigh.
"I am home again."
Shilne claps a hand on my shoulder, "Enjoy the moment, Baika. I suspect it will be over shortly."
"Mmh… Thank you for the unneeded reality." I frown.
"Of course. Consider it my gift to you." He grins at his own poor humor.
We pass through the set of heavy wooden doors that lead from the flight pad into the palace and find our first people. The soldiers standing guard here bow as we pass. Together we find the way down the long halls to my chambers where Shilne parts ways with me.
"You have a taik until I let people come see you. Enjoy it." He says and goes to find some quiet for himself.
"I will. I will indeed."
I put my travel gear down after locking the pair of doors behind him then turn and look into my rooms. How long has it been since I have been here? I cannot recall… I lean my back on the heavy wooden doors and sigh, looking about. Nothing has changed in my rooms it seems. The housekeeping staff has lit a fire in the main chamber to keep the chill off and it smells quite welcoming. Such a quiet place…
I wander in the rooms, checking everything over and remembering. At last I open my wardrobe and find that my clothing has been replaced.
"Hanta…" I frown.
She has taken this opportunity to replace my clothing here as well. All I want right now is to find some of the clothing she hates the most—that which is most comfortable and most worn from age and use. This I go digging for and finally find at least some of it.
"There…" I smile at myself in the long reflecting panes. There is even a hole in the sleeve of my sweater. "I do hope this will send you into a frenzy…"
I shed my prized clothing for a good long bath and then put it right back on, going to the shelves upon shelves of paper paged texts from all over the galaxy and beyond that I have kept as my prizes over the years. My eyes scan the spines of these texts for titles in the various character sets until I select my entertainment.
In the main room I put the kettle that is on the mantle into the fire to make myself a hot tea then settle on the sofa beside the fire with the book and a smoke with some quiet music from my
katsuna filling the air. In this way I spend my small while of peace. It is broken when Hanta finds me in this way. Her face has a look of great annoyance upon seeing my attire.
"Where did you find that??" She comes and grabs the book from my hand.
"I found it where you had hidden it, foul woman." I sneer, "Where is the rest of my clothing?"
"Never you mind. All of it was in terrible shape. I should have burnt it all!"
"You burned my clothing??" I sit up, eyes wide.
"Not all of it." She gathers herself from the error of admission.
"I loved that clothing!"
"All the more reason to have burned it."
"I should have you hung by your ankles…" I scowl at her.
"Do not be so dramatic. You will have all of the clothing you want made for you. Give me that sweater." She holds out a commanding hand.
"I will not! I will wear it every day just to make you angry."
"That would do it." She agrees, "Your first task here is to meet the palace staff. You will change for this."
"I agree… Be warned, Hanta. If you hide away any more of my old clothing I will make you very unhappy." I rise from my comfortable seat and stand above her, looking down quite sternly. "VERY."
This disturbs her only for a moment and then she is back to anger, "Fine. Look like a war orphan if you like."
She throws up a hand, turning and marching away from me toward my wardrobe wall to find the nicer clothing she has had put together for me. I smile after her, thinking of how brave she is to have done this. I am still angry but I cannot help admire her courage. She wants me to put on my best showing including wearing the clothing of royalty. While my father chose very lavish and richly colored clothing she has at least had the taste to ensure I do not look so garish and I have rather been enjoying the artistry of the royal tailors. They seem to enjoy showing off their skills by making me look better to the public. Hanta comes back to me shortly.
"You attire is laid out on your bed. Go change, my lord." She casts a hand in the direction she would like me to proceed, not looking at me.
"Such a mood." I shake my head.
"You would have the same one if you were threatened to be hung by your ankles simply for having done your job." She keeps her even tone, still not looking at me and so I know I have to make amends.
"You know I have fun with you." I stand before her and smile, "Shivu ai ichita." I say gently watch her soften.
"Stop that. I want to be angry with you." She looks up at me at last and I brush two fingers over her forehead then bend and kiss her there.
"Forgive me." I say as softly as possible. If there is one thing I am not, it is soft of voice after so much time in the military. I know this will melt her will to be mad at me.
"Forgiven." She sighs then pushes me toward my sleeping chamber where she has my things laid out, "Go dress."
I do so without further argument and when finished I join her again so that she may pick at the linens, making certain I am arranged appropriately once again.
"You need a hair trim." She examines my hair, clicking her tongue and then opts to pull it back in a tie.
"Am I so ugly?" I smile.
"Your hair is just a bit in need of attention. How long has it been since you had it cut? It must have been well before you left to wherever. It is much too long and very ragged. After you meet the staff I will have it trimmed back." She pats my back, "You are done."
"Good. I was getting tired of standing still." I look at myself in the reflecting pane and frown, then smirk, "I like my other clothing better."
"You can put it on again when I cut your hair." She assures, "You feel a bit lazy, do you?"
"Ready to relax." I nod, shrugging my shoulders in the formal attire.
"Let us move on then and get through with your obligations so that you may be lazy once again."
Off down the familiar old halls we go, accompanied by four members of the palace guard. She leads us to the smaller receiving hall and directs me to a seat at the far side, tidying my layers of linen once more before nodding to the guard to open the doors, allowing the palace staff to flow in. They come into lines before me and as they stop they kneel down and bow their heads. I smile at Laila as she comes through and takes her place amongst the group—surprisingly beside
Menoh, the girl who had struck her back at Galrea. At last they are all before us and the guards close the doors.
"Raise your heads." Hanta says and they do. "Baika, these are the members of the palace staff." She begins by having them speak their names and titles one by one. This in itself takes a long while.
The junior members of staff are excused and the seniors remain to discuss what it is that I will prefer of them, the amount of assistance I would like to have, daily requirements… At least after this my life here should run predictably. I speak to the palace guard about patrols, how many guards I would like to have placed outside my door and then they ask of how many I would like to have follow me about the grounds.
"No one will follow me." They look at me strangely, "What are those looks for? You think I cannot defend myself?"
"No, Baika. Of course you can defend yourself, sire." The Senior Commander of the guard bows, "But your father usually liked-"
"Do I look like my father??" I bellow my interruption.
"No, Baika." He takes a step back and bows again.
"I am not my father. Do not begin to assume that I will like anything in the same way that he would."
"This is now my home. I will live here as you would live in yours. You have no one that follows you about in your home. Understood?"
"All of you, take that into your thoughts. I want to have quiet in the nights. I want to have visitors give notice before arriving and they can do so with Hanta. I want to be able to walk in the halls without people following me, watching my every breath. I want to be able to go into the kitchens if I please-"
"The kitchens??" Now I have been interrupted by the head of the kitchens.
"Yes!" I snap my gaze to her.
She shakes her head with her mouth hanging open, eyes wide.
"What is that look for?? Why is everyone making such faces??"
"I believe they are simply surprised by your requests, sire." Hanta stops my building anger as I am on the verge of vaulting out of my seat. "You are much different than your father and you have rather changed as well. Be patient, my lord. This has not been a home for-"
"It is a home now." I stop her, my gaze still locked on the head of the kitchens. "Do you have a problem with my coming into the kitchens, woman??"
"No, Baika… We never saw your father in the kitchens. How should we keep them to please you?"
"Keep them as always. I care not about your appearances as long as you keep me fed."
"We can do that very well." She curtsies.
"I will only have three staff members with free access to my rooms. Menoh, Laila, and Hanta. Everyone else will require my presence or one of them in order to enter my rooms."
"Baika…" The head of the palace staff bows to me. "Forgive the question but… Laila. Is she a slave or recreation… What are we supposed to make of her?"
"You will treat her as a member of staff. She is not a slave. She has been freed and it is her choice to work here as my servant just as she was a servant to me at Galrea. She will be learning to speak our language. Be patient with her. That is all I ask… She is not my recreation."
Her look is one of doubt at that last statement. I have acquired a reputation over the years that is no longer accurate and so I will have to live with what I have wrought.
After this unusual and irritating discussion I am followed back to my rooms. Hanta notes my look of anger at this and turns to the guards, stopping as I carry on ahead, "Please, only the two of you that will stand guard outside of his rooms continue to follow along. Thank you."
Better… And better still when I put back on the clothing that annoys Hanta. She ignores my happy smile at my reclaimed attire when I return to the outer chamber of my room, continuing to work on planning my next days.
"Bring me Laila." I say to her.
"Mmh?" She looks up from her katsuna.
"I want to talk to her."
"Alright." She sighs and goes to the doors, asking the guards to bring her then returns. "What is it about her that captivates you so?"
"Nothing that I understand completely... I feel a responsibility for her. She has no family and I have appreciated her manner with me… When I told her she would go to school she called me father." I smirk at remembering, "Rolled her eyes at me."
"Father for a human girl." She muses then laughs and goes to find a cutter in my bathing room to begin to trim my hair back. It has become rather long and I will admit this. I have been gone for a while and not so much concerned with my grooming.
Eventually Laila arrives, bringing a basket of fruit with her.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Yes." I put aside my katsuna.
She sets the basket down and brings one of the fruits over, "You should eat one of these. They are amazing. I have never tasted anything so wonderful." She places it in my hand.
"Lombek." I smile, "It has been a long while since I have had one. Thank you." I set it aside for later enjoyment.
"Welcome." She smiles brightly and picks up a handful of my white hair from the floor, amused by it, "How much are you going to cut off?"
"A great deal of this mess." Hanta says, "It is a nest!"
"Do not cut it all off…" I warn her.
"I know how you like your hair. Settle yourself." She taps my head.
"Laila… How have things been since you arrived?"
"What do you mean?"
"How have you been treated?"
She shrugs, "All right. No one really talks to me, they more talk about me."
"Menoh says they’re talking about you and me actually. They seem to think there is something… Well… Like a relationship between us." She winces.
"They think we are sharing a bed." I put it more bluntly.
"Yes. That’s what I was getting at." She shrugs again. "Sorry?"
"There is nothing to make apology for. They are saying this because I have earned a reputation over the years for my behavior with women. Thus they assume that the odd human that has arrived is my recreation. I am sorry for their assumptions. I hope that they do not make you uncomfortable."
"If they want the truth they’ll hear it. I don’t worry about what other people say… So are you still a womanizer?"
"What does that mean?" I tilt my head and get another snap on the head from Hanta for moving while she trims my hair. "Aich!"
"It means that you umm… Like pursuing women whether they want you to or not."
"Ahht. That is not how I am now. It is how I was. The reputation is not earned without merit."
"Oh." She laughs.
"Do not worry on it."
"Where have you been given lodging?"
"They put me in a hall with some other girls that live here in the palace."
"Are you in a room alone?"
"Yes. No one else wanted to share with me. So in a way I guess I am lucky for being human."
"I wish to see your room to ensure that it is adequate."
"I thought you said there would be no special treatment." She makes a face at me and I find myself smiling at her.
"I simply wish to see that you are taken care of. Settled. I will not always be able to take time to see to your care and so I hope to start things well for you here."
"I won’t complain."
"Good. Tomorrow I will be going to Aykovas. You will come with me."
"O kay? I hear more odd things from you…"
"Okay. All right. Fine. Yes." She finishes. "It’s one word."
I sigh, "Do you humans simply make up extra words because you feel you do not have enough?"
"No. It just seems to happen."
"And what is this shortening that you do? It bothers me to hear. It’s, aren’t, they’ll, she’s… You do not even like to use the entirety of your own words."
"You’re so silly." She laughs.
"There is another one!" I thrust a finger toward her as though to point it out more clearly.
"It is a valid use of their language." Hanta says, "I do not like to dabble in such things. It unnecessarily complicates teaching. I have not taught you to speak their slang or their shortenings just their language and proper grammar. I can talk that way too but I don’t like it."
"Rrhh. I don’t like it either." I wince, "It is wrong to my ears."
"Your language sounds wrong to my ears." Laila says with crossed eyes.
"Better than your noisy language." I return her odd face to her.
"Why are we going to Aykovas?" She changes the subject.
"So that you can spend some time with free humans, to be sure that you are satisfied with remaining here. It will also be good for them to see me arrive with a human, not only a group of soldiers. I understand that they have a school there and I do hope that you will spend some time there learning more about your own people."
"I’d like that." She sees me cringe, "I mean, I would like that."
"You are done." Hanta proclaims.
"Let me see the horror you have created." I get up and look in the reflecting pane. "Very good."
She has cut my hair back to just past my shoulders. I look much tidier indeed. Hanta finishes cleaning up the mess she has made.
"I have some arrangements to make for you. Send a sig if you need me."
"Thank you." I watch her leave and turn back to Laila who is examining the handful of my hair that she has, "Will you take me to your room? I am curious of what they have given you."
"Umm hmm… Can I keep this?"
"You want to keep my hair? How strange."
"Well… My mother kept a lock of my hair. It’s something that humans do I guess. To remember people that are important to them."
"You may keep it… Do you remember your mother?"
"Yes…" She ties the long bits of my hair in a loose knot and tucks it into a pocket in her skirts.
"Do you remember how old you were the last time you had seen her?"
"Ten years old."
"Will you tell me what happened?"
"You do not have to. I am hoping that perhaps I can find them for you. Did they die?"
I take her to sit on the sofa and give her one of the fruits that she has brought me. Perhaps some food will losen her tongue.
"Eat that and tell me as you are able."
She nods and takes a bite, staring ahead of her as though the events she remembers are playing out before her eyes somehow.
"When your army came and took our planet it was so confusing… When everything settled down they started to come to the towns and pulling families apart. They made my parents stay on Mycenea and sent me to work in one of the kitchens on a carrier for a while… And then brought me to that big ugly castle."
"Laila, did you know that Mycenea was our world? We did not come to take your planet. We came to take ours back. Your troops had come more than ten cycles before that and killed millions of our people, taking those that remained as slaves."
"Really?" She looks up to me with surprise on her face.
"Yes. It is the truth. I am sorry that you were separated from your family but it was the way to do so to lessen the urge to rebel. It is very possible that they are alive. When I go to Mycenea to free the humans there I will try to find them for you."
"That would be nice. I miss them."
Her little pink brow furrows and her eyes turn to the floor. I feel rather sad for her.
"Until then I will do what I can to take their place and give you as much of a difficult time as they might have."
"You will be very good at that." She sniffles, her voice growing softer, "Thank you."
"No… Do not thank me."
Before I know what has happened she has dropped the half-eaten fruit and is sobbing against me. For a moment I am frozen, not certain of what to do… And then I settle my arms about her and hold her… Compassion… I am learning. I close my eyes with a sigh and let her cry herself out.
"I’m sorry I dropped the fruit on the floor." She says finally.
"Eh… There are more."
In a little while more she has collected herself and I am walking out the doors with her to see the place she has been given for her room. The two guards at the door make to follow me and I turn on my heel, snarling at them. They remember now and move back into their positions letting us go on unaccompanied.
"That wasn’t very nice." She says.
"Perhaps not. Yet they will not follow me again, will they?" I smile proudly, joining my hands behind my back for the stroll.
"You could have asked politely."
"It does not seem to work as quickly."
The room she has been given is small but there is a decent bed there along with a desk and a place to keep her clothing. She places the bits of my hair on her desk alongside a few other things that seem to be special to her, tying it together with a scrap of string.
I go to her closet and see there is hardly anything there. On the floor there is a pair of rather used looking shoes neatly placed side by side.
"I will have the tailors come to make you more clothing… Let me see the shoes you have on."
She takes one off and gives it to me. It is not in fine condition either.
"New footwear too." I give it back, "Did you learn anything from Hanta on your way here?"
"She taught me the northern alphabet and she taught me how to show respect to keep me out of trouble. She told me not to stare at people all the time. I guess I stare a lot." She shrugs.
"You do. I am surprised you do not wear out your eyes."
"Am I that bad?"
"I exaggerate." I smirk.
"Oh… She also taught me to say a few things."
"Give me an example."
"Ashio ka nai… Formal greeting or parting. Yaisht… Hello! Yon v’sehan… I am lost." She carries on with some basic sentences for a while.
"She’s a good teacher."
"I have learned well from her myself yet she will not be able to be your teacher and so we will place you into schooling here. It may be best to have someone come to the palace to teach you at least for a little while. I will have Hanta recommend someone."
"Can I ask a question?" She sits on her bed and looks up at me.
"Why do you care if I go to school?"
"You have been out of learning for years. Everyone should have education if they are able. You are able, and you do not suffer from mental defect. In fact you seem to be quite intelligent… For a human."
"Mean…" She looks at me disapprovingly as I smirk again at my humor.
"If you learn more you may decide for yourself what you wish to do with your life."
"I thought I would just be a maid here." She shrugs her little shoulders.
"There is more to life than just this. If you have education you will see the choices that there are. You can do more than this. Do you think you might like to be something other than a maid?"
She thinks about it for a moment, "I might like to be like Hanta."
"Uh huh. She’s so smart! I’ll never be that smart though."
"You do not know that until you try."
"What is happening with Menoh and yourself? When you came in this morning you were with her."
"We’re friends now. She’s really nice and we have a lot in common."
"From a sore face to friends?" I am amused and fold my arms to listen to the reason for this.
"When Aiino left Galrea, Menoh started to talk to me and said she was sorry again and we just got to be friends. I think Aiino was making everyone angry."
"I think that too. It amazes me that you are so forgiving."
"I try my best. She keeps telling people off who say that you and I are… You know."
"So she is speaking in defense of you."
"Good. Menoh will also be going to school. She is young herself. You will share your educational pains with her." I open my katsuna and call to Hanta to send the tailor. "You and Menoh will be the only people aside from Hanta with free access to my chambers so your job will be fairly large. You have to take care of me."
"It seems you are more taking care of me."
"It will all equal out in the end. You seem to know how I like to have things so share this with Menoh."
"I’m glad I do the right things. It just seems like what you might prefer and I know you will tell me if I do something that makes you angry. You’re very good at letting people know how you feel."
I smile at her little joke at my expense. "Indeed…"
The tailor comes to take her measurements while I tell her what to make for Laila. Basic clothing but I do not want them to make it poorly because they see her as a slave. A few nice things too. She needs to have a few pretty things at least.
I can see more of my fascination with her now. She is a responsibility that I have taken on freely, with no obligation of title or bloodline. She is a small thing in relation to the massive responsibility of seeing to the empire. She is something that I can focus upon. I can easily see the positive effects my attention has on her whereas the things I do for the empire are going to be slower in showing result. Even if I do fail at the larger tasks in my life I will always be able to know I have done at least one thing—I have made her life better. I will do my best to find her family for her.
"Have something for her tomorrow morning. She is traveling with a group and myself. I do not want to have her looking poorly."
"Yes, Baika." The tailor bows away.
"Laila… I want to have your assurance that you will tell me if anything happens to you while you are here that makes you uncomfortable. This is your home now and you should feel relaxed. I know that it will take some time before everyone comes to be used to you… But they should not upset you or treat you poorly."
She nods, "Don’t worry."
"I will worry as much as I like to… Now I will take you back to the head of house and see what it is that she has for you to do. When you bring my late meal to me, bring enough for yourself, Menoh and Hanta as well. We will take meal together."
I bring her back to the head of the house and tell her to teach Laila all that she must know.
"Do not give her the dirt work because you think she is a slave. She will need time to see to the care of my rooms and my feeding… Believe me that you do not want to see me standing before you when I am hungry…" I look at her sternly as she had been trying to second-guess me.
"I do not understand this at all but I will do as you ask. And for Menoh?"
"She was a senior at Galrea. She will continue on as my servant as much as will Laila. Integrate them both with the chores as you see fit."
"Very well, sire." She bows as I excuse her from me, taking Laila with her to show her the kitchens and such.
My katsuna chimes as I wander back to my rooms, "Yes, Hanta."
"Shilne is ready to take you to the Communications Ministry. Are you prepared to depart?"
"Only if you will be pleased with my dressing like an orphan for the journey."
"Saich… At least put your uniform on."
"I will." I shut the communication stream, finding my pace quickening. I can hardly wait to find out who it was who engineered the shutdown of communications to the humans.
"Uniform or something else to wear?"
I choose a moderate class of attire and put on an armored flight jacket, re-equipping my sword. As I make my way back to the small landing pad to meet Shilne and Hanta I am in hopes she will not turn me around to change again. This dressing properly foolishness is getting to be irritating.
"I would have imagined that a King could wear what he pleased. Could father have not chosen the foolish looking attire he always wore? At least Hanta seems to have some bit of taste. Perhaps I should simply be grateful for her..."
Mercifully she does not turn me around and almost seems to approve. Shilne pilots us in his craft out toward the main landing field for the palace defense where we join 4 other craft which will accompany us to the Ministry.
Johdvur is not far from Namida. It is home to the northern hub of the Communications Ministry and the Ministry of Information. Most of the people who work there live in the city proper. It is connected by daily commuter flights and a high-speed rail line for the NEHL—the city public transit system. The landing pad is cleared of commuter craft as we arrive and the escorts land in a circle around our craft.
"Welcome to Johdvur." Shilne says, turning the engines to cooling.
"We will be meeting Banrek in the arrivals area." Hanta checks my attire one last time before we go inside.
Banrek is filled with good cheer and I am glad to see him in the flesh after so long a time. He bows and then takes me by the arm as I take him.
"Good to see you." He says, an enormous grin on his face, "I have stories…"
"I would imagine you do! Are you still enjoying this position?"
"Very much. Come along! Bring the farmer along too." He says in mockery of Shilne’s future aspirations.
Banrek has taken great care to see to it that their internal security force is very visible for my arrival. He has taken his own division and fashioned them into this force along with what already existed here. His division was split from the 102nd when we grew too large shortly after we reclaimed Mycenea, Banrek taking happy command of the newly formed 133rd. His promotion cleared the way for Shilne to take the place of my second in command. Banrek has always met every challenge with great enthusiasm, no matter how odd a thing he is called to do. Half of his division acts as local enforcement on Mycenea and the other half now resides here.
Johdvur is a massive place—a small city in itself. A hall runner takes us to our destination and Banrek brings us inside the heart of the place. People take note of our passing and bow then hurry on their ways once again. Such a busy place… Farther and farther we go until he leads us to one final area. It appears to be more of a research area and the ten or so people here rise to bow.
"This is the team that made possible your miracle." Banrek announces.
"Good… Which among you made the blocking of the transmissions to the humans a reality?"
"We all worked on it to some amount… But it was mostly Udai." One of the women speaks and gestures toward one of the men in his Johdvur uniform.
I come toward him, "Udai, is this true?"
"I led the team…"
"You are being too humble." I smirk.
"No.. No." There is a twitch in his eye the lets me know that there is more that he is hiding.
"Mmh… You are lying to me. Why is that?"
"I am not lying." He moves back a step.
"Yes… You are." I frown, "What is this foolishness? Banrek??"
"Udai. Just tell him." Banrek says.
I watch as his shoulders drop, "My son…"
He nods, "My son figured it out… From all that we were working on."
"Does he work here?"
"I do not follow. Be clear with me, man."
"Very well… Come along." He turns and heads into another room.
Inside this room there is a boy, hard at work at a monitor. Things are flying past on the screen and he seems to absorb it all.
"Damanu… You have a visitor." He says to his child who looks up for a moment.
"Amazing!" He says, "You are Baika."
"Yes I am. Did you make it possible to end the prying of the humans into our communications?"
"I put the pieces of the puzzle together that my father and the others laid out."
"How old are you?" He is not lying.
"I am 11 cycles."
"And you know so much?"
"My son has a gift." Udai explains, "He seems to be able to learn very quickly. He has been coming here to work with me every day since he was very young. He has absorbed everything and when he sees a problem… He just seems to be able to sort out how to make things work. I cannot explain it. Neither his mother or I are nearly this intelligent."
Damanu has already gone back to looking at the information on the monitor.
"He should be in school, not here."
"We cannot send him. He would love to go."
"He cannot walk. You see he sits in a chair with wheels." He gestures.
"This is a problem?"
"Perhaps you do not know… Your father refused education and social support to the crippled. It was his opinion that those who could not carry on as most others can should… Die and no longer burden the Empire."
Ahhll, my father shows his ugly side again.
"That is nonsense and it will not stand! This child has more in his head than all of the educated adults around him! Damanu."
He looks up again, "Yes, Baika?"
"Do you want to be in school?"
"Yes!" He smiles widely. "Can I go now?"
"You may. For what you have done I will see to all of your education, whatever finances are required to support you."
"I did not do that much but thank you! I can hardly wait to go and read and learn! Can I go today?? Can I go now??"
"Not yet. I will have to see to your arrangements. Soon. I promise you this."
"Father! I am going to school." He grins, "Will you miss me?"
"Very much my son." He smiles and I can see a tear in his eye. "Thank you, Baika."
"You are more than welcome. This amazes me! Banrek, why did you not tell me?"
"You had to see for yourself." He smiles, "This child is amazing."
"Where will I go to school?"
"The University in Namida. That way you can be close to your family. Hanta…"
"I will make arrangements." She nods.
"You will also make arrangements for me to speak with the Ministry of Education. This foolishness will end. Did you know of this?"
"Yes of course I knew of it. I have been in education for years! Why do you think I asked you to look into civilian matters soon?"
"Is there no end to the vile things my father has done?"
"He was at least consistent in that." She notes and goes to Damanu, crouching down beside his chair, "What is your favorite subject to learn?"
"Math. No! Science. Well… Both! Can I learn both?"
"You can learn even more than that." She smiles up at his enthusiasm, "That is the great thing about learning. You can never learn everything. There is always something new around the corner."
"I know." His eyes are wide, "Is it not the most amazing thing?"
For a while I sit with the boy and he shows me what it is that they have done, simplifying it as much as he can for my comparitively feeble mind. All of this he learned beside his father, from coming to work every day with him, from being given books. I am in awe.
"Is there anything else that you might like other than education?" I ask him.
"Mmmh…" He puts his mind to thinking on it quite hard and then smiles, "Yes! I would like a ride in a fighter craft. A
pyaton! Will you take me?"
"Damanu… That could be dangerous!" His father warns.
"No. It will not be dangerous. He is the greatest pilot in the Empire!"
He begins to rattle off my battle record as though it were nothing to have remembered it, proving to his father that if I have not died after all this activity then a flight with me will be of little danger. I am again feeling my ego swell.
He looks at me, "Swear you will not harm him."
"Of course I will not. I will give him what he wishes for and return him to you safely."
And so I take him up in the craft that Shilne had brought us in.
"Do not scratch her." He warns, turning over the command to me.
Damanu enjoys every moment of the ride and his father enjoys having him safely back in his arms at the end. It is obvious that this child is well loved. Soon he will be well educated too, in a formal sense.
"Thank you for taking time out of your thinking to meet with me." I joke and ruffle his dark hair.
"It was worth it. Thank you, Baika. You will be the best Baika we have ever had."
"I am glad you are so certain of this. I will do my best. Excuse me now. I have some things to fix for you."
"Thank you." Udai smiles.
"You will hear from me soon." I assure and take his arm in gratitude, "I thank all of you for what you have done here. Please continue to do your best for the Empire."
"We will." He bows his head.
"We go." I release him and we go on our ways.
Next stop—The Ministry of Education for an unannounced visit. I am furious when we land. Hanta does her best to contain me as I march through their halls, demanding audience with the head of the place in as loud a voice as I can find.
"He is not here, sire." One of the staff informs, on his knees before me.
"GET HIM HERE NOW!"
"Yes, sire." He goes scurrying off, gathering people about and then they in turn scurry off.
"What is taking so LONG??"
"Baika… Settle." Hanta says and winces as I turn toward her. "Keep mindful that this was your father and his doing. Not theirs. Your anger with them is unwarranted."
"That they could stand for this is unforgivable."
"How were they to refuse?"
I squeeze my eyes shut, jaw set hard, "I do not know but they should have!"
"I am sure they tried. Please… Please calm down."
"How many children like that could exist??"
"Many. And now they will have what they deserve. Settle down." She urges again.
I turn and throw my fist against the wall, crushing it in trying to release my anger. Hanta winces again. Education… A very constant theme as of late. Even I know that it is important, and though I resisted it in favor of my military training it has served me well. I am grateful for it. I stay there, fighting the anger out of my body until finally I take a long breath and remove my fist from the hole I have made.
"This is different from giving orders." She says gently.
"Yes. Yes it is. You will give the Ministry of Education the ability to ignore what your father wrote into law. Then you will go to the law and remove it from the books. Think of it as assisting them with doing what they want to do already but cannot. Understand?"
"It is absurd."
"It is that indeed because of what your father has done."
"What more is there of education that I should know?"
"Much. I will put it all before you and the head minister will be glad to lay it all out for you as well. They want to educate our people! Mark it! Do not think they will resist you. Not for a moment! I promise you this. Make them your friends for that is what they are in this case."
I keep silent until I am sure I will not say something hostile, "Get me a drink."
She brings me back water, "I was hoping for something else." I take it anyway.
"Of course you were."
By the time the Minister arrives with his assistants I am calmer. They bow before me respectfully and Hanta tells them what I want with them. They agree emphatically and the Minister shows me many other things my father placed in their ways. I remove them all with my words and his assistants move quickly to make these things fade. He also tells me where I may go to find all of these things written in the law books that I might have them removed permanently.
"If I may be so bold, there are a few things that I would ask that you add to the law books."
"Tell me what they are."
Everything he asks for makes sense. I leave there feeling satisfied. Hanta will be going on her way to the University to see to getting Damanu enrolled. They will no doubt be surprised by his age and the entrance exam he will provide them. I am proud of him already and when I return to the palace I set aside some of my own personal finances to assist his family with purchasing all of what he will need for his classes… Then I go hunting for Menoh. She is next on my mental list.
I find her in the halls of the palace, seeing to some of the chores she has been given. She is startled by my presence and goes to her hands and knees.
"Hello again, Menoh. I wish to speak with you."
"Have I made you angry, sire?"
"No. Not at all. Surely the head of house has told you what your position will be."
"Then how could I be angry with you? I am rather pleased that you have made your peace with Laila so well."
"She is a very nice girl. We have become friends, sire."
"Good. Rise up and take me to the room you have been given."
She does so, taking her basket of cleaning supplies along. Her room is larger than Laila’s and she has her own presumably because she was a senior staff member at Galrea. Either way I am pleased by the accommodations they have given her and think to have the room Laila is in changed to one that is similar… I should not favor her so.
When I turn around from her closet, satisfied with the clothing she has, I see that Menoh is shaking terribly and halfway through unbuttoning her shirt. My eyes go wide.
"Gods girl, what are you doing??" I ask her and she jumps with a start at the volume of my question.
"You said you were not angry… And wanted to go to my room… And I thought…" Now she starts to cry.
I am not even doing anything shameful and I am still making women afraid! How can this be? Obviously the household staff will have to be told again that neither of these girls are for my recreation.
"Menoh! I never intended for you to give yourself to me. There are some rumors that must be stopped! I simply wished to be sure that you were given adequate housing and speak to you about your education. Please button your shirt again."
She pulls her shirt tightly to her and falls to her knees, sobbing. Unbelievable! She has been living with the fear of having to serve me in this way since her arrival due to these rumors. I kneel beside her and raise her eyes to me.
"Menoh. I will never ask that of you. I promise."
She nods, sniffling and wiping at her face, "Forgive me, sire."
"Who told you this? How did you come to believe it?"
"Your father tried to make me once… And when you made me your personal servant… And everyone says… I thought you would make me."
"No… Shhht." I am afraid to touch her to comfort her for fear it will send her further into her worry. "I am only trying to see if this is a good room for you where you will be comfortable and then to talk to you about school. I want you to go to have some education along with Laila. You are almost as young as she and I have not seen a family around you that would see to such things. Where is your family?"
"They are gone. I was sold to the head of staff of Galrea when I was very small."
"Until you can learn some basic things I will have a teacher come here to Manaleh to educate you both."
"All right." She nods.
"Do you like this room?"
"Good… I am not having relations with Laila, in the case you were wondering as so many seem to."
"No, sire. Laila says it is not true and I do believe her."
"It is good to know you trust one another. I have asked Laila to join myself and Hanta for late meal. Will you join us too?"
"If you wish it."
"It is your decision. I am not going to force you to eat with me."
"I will come… Why are you being so nice to me? I thought you would kill me for striking Laila."
"You took the chance I gave you to prove yourself and did very well with it. You have proven yourself very much. Will you help to teach Laila to speak our language?"
"I am doing my best. I am not very good at it. She says things funny… Makes me laugh." She smiles a little.
"Are you all right now?"
"I think so."
"Good. If you need anything, let me know of it. No hesitation. You will take care of me, I will take care of you. Yes?"
"Then all is well. I will have someone find you when it is time for meal."
I help her to her feet and then leave her be. My reputation has gained momentum over the years, even though there is nothing keeping it running any longer. Hanta meets me back in my chambers once she has finished with her visit to the University.
I am relaxed for I have spent several taik wandering the halls of my reclaimed home. The staff and guard watched me nervously the entire time. They are still trying to understand what to make of me, what is real and what is not of what they have heard of me, what remains of what they might remember of how I was the last time I was in residence.
The palace is as beautiful as I remember it though I did not so much appreciate it before. None of those undulating walls such as were in Galrea that made me feel ill just from looking at them. Things are simple, well thought out, not overly extravagant and yet filled with subtle detail and craftsmanship. Everything about this place impresses me. There is always something new to see, to notice as a gift for your eyes. The way the red brickwork blends with the large grey base stone blocks… The heavy wooden beams… The intricate wood lattice panels that are used to separate rooms, decorative doors, screens for the windows… The curving polished wooden archways in the long halls… Sounds of my feet making the dark wooden floors creak as I pass over. The walls here are not unusually high. It makes the place feel warm even for the stone walls. It is not an enormous structure as was Galrea. It is manageable. It is a home indeed. I look forward to the coming good weather and walking in the courtyards. It simply feels… right.
"I got your message about the finances for Damanu. Very generous." Hanta says when I sit down with her after my walk.
"It is still not enough. Such a brain in his head! What did they say at the University?"
"They had already been contacted by the Ministry of Education and were glad to see me. They provided him the entrance examination via link for they were sure he would not be ready for a high grade due to his age… While we talked about his arrangements Damanu returned the exam… Perfect scores." She claps her hands proudly, "While he will be in elementary classes for history and such things he will be in high level mathematics and sciences. Tomorrow he will be going to visit the University and sit with a counselor to go over his courses. I spoke with his father about the financial arrangements and while he protested your generosity I assured him that it was useless to argue with you."
"You are the perfect advisor." I smile.
"A compliment! By Gods, I must be dreaming… Pinch me."
"Such humor. You will not get many more at this rate. I am glad of how this has come out. Thank you for keeping me from my temper with the Ministry of Education."
"What is next for me to do?"
She sits with me to go over the papers I must sign to kill the stupid laws my father had enacted with regard to education and some social support. Hanta tells me there are many other social issues that require my attention and I assure her that I will put my mind to it.
Next I sit to a nightly link meeting with all of my new trusted associates, hearing the details of the financial state of the empire, the preparation of the grounds for the new Galrea and on and on. By the time that the sun has gone down and it is time for late meal I am tired.
"Such a long day for you." Hanta brings me hot tea as I yawn and stretch my muscles out, "You have done well."
"Mmh… I am doing my best to keep focused. It is easier now that I am home again, now that Galrea is dead. And speaking of the dead… Where is my father?"
"I wish you would bury him somewhere. Or empty his ashes into the ocean. Anything other than keeping him about." She rolls her eyes as I go to rummage through the bags I have brought with me from Galrea.
"Here is the man himself!" I produce his tin and pat the lid, "Hello father! How I have not missed you! Where to put you… Here." I place him on a shelf beside the fireplace in the main room of my chambers. "Here you will have a good view of the undoing of your stupidity."
"I do not want him watching us eat our meal."
"Very well. Forgive me father." I turn the tin half way around, "There."
Hanta bursts into a fit of laughter, "You are insane!"
"It has been a long day." I fold my arms over my chest and look away from the tin. "At least I will have some company at night."
"I could find you some rabid forest animals instead."
"I will think on your kind offer." A knock comes at the doors, "Enter!"
The guard allows Laila entry, "Hello." She smiles and bows to me, pushing along the cart that carries our meal from the kitchens.
"Welcome. How has your day been?"
"Fun! I really like this place. They showed me everything almost. It is beautiful here. Nothing like Galrea… They gave me some material to make curtains for my room and I helped to make lunch for the in-house staff. There are a lot of people here! The guards eat so much. More than you almost!" She certainly is excited for the way the words pour out of her while she sets out our meal.
"I have not been as active as I used to be and so I am not eating as much… That reminds me I need to go for a run tomorrow morning. I am getting lazy. Hanta… Have the guard find Menoh."
"Of course. Laila, tea is in the fire if you are of a mind to have some."
"Thank you Hanta." She is simply glowing with her happiness and it makes me feel wonderful.
I sip my own tea with another yawn as Laila finishes her task and comes to sit with me, kicking off her tattered shoes and pushing her feet under the cushions which have been warmed by the fire.
"Are you really so happy or have you had a great amount of sugar?"
"I am very happy."
Menoh arrives shortly as I am quizzing Laila on her alphabet. They are happy to be together again and chatter away about everything they have been doing during the day. Menoh must have picked up the human language from having come to work at Galrea so young. I am overwhelmed by their energy and have to get up and move to the table, watching them at a distance as I drink my tea while waiting for Shilne to join us for late meal.
After we are all fed they walk back to their rooms together, still chattering away. From hostility to this.
"By Gods, they can talk!" My eyes are wide.
"They are adorable. I am so glad that they are getting along. And so well!"
Hanta lays out some clothing for my evening, leaves me some news reports to read and then departs. After a good hot bath I climb into my bed, turn on the news feeds and before I know it… I am warmly asleep amongst the pillows.